Substance Use

  • Experimentation with alcohol and drugs during adolescence is common. Unfortunately, teenagers often don't see the link between their actions today and the consequences tomorrow. They also have a tendency to feel indestructible and immune to the problems that others experience. Research shows:

    • Alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco are substances most commonly used by adolescents.
    • By 12th grade, about two-thirds of students have tried alcohol.
    • About half of 9th through 12th grade students reported ever having used marijuana.
    • About 4 in 10 9th through 12th grade students reported having tried cigarettes.
    • Among 12th graders, close to 2 in 10 reported using prescription medicine without a prescription.

    Although it is illegal for people under 21 years of age to drink alcohol, the findings show that people from 12 to 20 years of age consume about one-tenth of all alcohol consumed in the United States.

    Source Credit: Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)

  • Risk Factors 

    Risk factors do not determine a child’s destiny — instead, they provide a general gauge as to the likelihood of drug or alcohol use. But it is safe to say that addressing risk factors early and paying careful attention to children at higher risk can reduce that child’s likelihood of a future problem with drugs or alcohol. Understanding risk factors is also very important when a child at greater risk has already experimented with substances or has a problem. Common risk factors include:

    • family history
    • mental health or behavioral issues
    • trauma
    • impulse control issues

    Why Teens Use

    Beyond risk factors, there are personal and societal reasons that can play a role in a teen's experimentation with illegal substances. The reasons for teenage substance abuse are as complex as teenagers themselves. They include:

    • Other People: Teenagers see their parents and other adults drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes and, sometimes, trying other substances. Sometimes friends urge one another to have a drink or smoke pot, but it’s just as common for teens to start trying a substance because it’s readily available and they see all their friends enjoying it.
    • Popular Culture: Seeing substance use on television, in movies or on social media can appear to be "glamorous" and are often interpreted as "no big deal," leading to experimentation with drugs or alcohol.
    • Escape or Self-Medication: When teens are unhappy and can’t find a healthy outlet for their frustration or a trusted confidant, they may turn to chemicals for solace.
    • Boredom: Teens who can’t tolerate being alone, have trouble keeping themselves occupied or crave excitement are prime candidates for substance use. Not only do alcohol and marijuana give them something to do, but those substances help fill the internal void they feel. 
    • Instant Gratification: Drugs and alcohol work quickly. The initial effects feel really good. Teenagers turn to drug use because they see it as a short-term shortcut to happiness.
    • Lack of Confidence: Many shy teenagers who lack confidence report that they’ll do things under the influence of alcohol or drugs that they might not otherwise. 
    • Misinformation: Nearly every teenager has friends who claim to be experts on various recreational substances, and they’re happy to assure her that the risks are minimal. Educate your teenagers about drug use, so they get the real facts about the dangers of drug use.

    Source Credit: Partnership for Drug-Free Kids

  • Use vs. Abuse

    Sometimes substance use is limited to one episode, perhaps out of curiosity or experimentation. The effects may be relatively insignificant without serious physical or psychological consequences. However, when substances are used regularly or in extreme excess and interfere with a child's functioning, relationships and/or education, it is considered abuse. Abuse of a substance often results in adverse consequences such as sickness, inability to perform academically, or criminal activity. Youth that abuse substances may be at greater risk to become physically and/or psychologically dependent on them.

  • Video Library

    Tips for Parents on Preventing and Identifying Youth Substance Abuse

    For Teens: Teen Brain Development 

  • A Message for Parents about Substance Abuse

  • Article: How to Talk to Your Teen About Substance Abuse
    Article: Signs Your Child May Be Engaging In Drugs 

    Warning Signs 

    It's important to remember that some signs may be related to drug and alcohol use, but they do not necessarily indicate that your child or adolescent is using substances. These behaviors may also be signs of other problems, which is why communicating with your child is so important. Some indicators of drug and alcohol use include:

    • Changes in friends
    • Withdrawal from previously preferred activities or interactions 
    • Secrecy about activities and possessions
    • Excessive mood swings or violent outbursts
    • Declines in grades and schoolwork
    • Use of products, such as incense, room deoderizer or perfume that mask odors
    • Increase in borrowing or stealing

    Source credit: National Association of School Psychologists

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  • Prevention

    Communication is key! Research shows that teens that learn about the risks of drugs and alcohol at home are 50% less likely to use them.

    To talk to your teen about drugs:

    • Ask your teen's views. Avoid lectures. Instead, listen to your teen's opinions and questions about drugs. Assure your teen that he or she can be honest with you.
    • Discuss reasons not to use drugs. Avoid scare tactics. Emphasize how drug use can affect the things that are important to your teen — such as sports, driving, health and appearance.
    • Consider media messages. Social media, television programs, movies and songs can glamorize or trivialize drug use. Talk about what your teen sees and hears.
    • Discuss ways to resist peer pressure. Brainstorm with your teen about how to turn down offers of drugs.
    • Be ready to discuss your own drug use. Think about how you'll respond if your teen asks about your own drug use. If you chose not to use drugs, explain why. If you did use drugs, share what the experience taught you.

    Other preventative strategies include:

    • Knowing your teen's activities. Pay attention to your teen's whereabouts. Find out what adult-supervised activities your teen is interested in and encourage him or her to get involved.
    • Establishing rules and consequences. Explain your family rules, such as leaving a party where drug use occurs and not riding in a car with a driver who's been using drugs. If your teen breaks the rules, consistently enforce consequences.
    • Knowing your teen's friends. If your teen's friends use drugs, your teen might feel pressure to experiment, too.
    • Keeping track of prescription drugs. Take an inventory of all prescription and over-the-counter medications in your home.
    • Providing support. Offer praise and encouragement when your teen succeeds. A strong bond between you and your teen might help prevent your teen from using drugs.
    • Settting a good example. If you drink, do so in moderation. Use prescription drugs as directed. Don't use illicit drugs.

    Source credit: The Mayo Clinic